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NM Youth Ranch Management Camp inspires high school students

When she graduated from high school, Jessica Eck ’16 didn’t know what type of career she wanted. After spending a week at the New Mexico Youth Ranch Management Camp in 2012, she found the passion she would pursue at NMSU. 

“When I went to ranch camp, I discovered range. I just loved it. I loved learning about all the grasses, learning about the ecosystems,” Eck says. 

Established in 2011 for high school age youth, NMSU’s Cooperative Extension Services event provides participants with hands-on activities and college-level instruction in the various aspects of managing a ranch, including financial statements and marketing strategies, along with managing natural resources and wildlife. 

“More than 200 youth who have participated in past ranch camps gain a greater appreciation of the science and opportunities in agriculture,” says Tom Dean ’96 ’02, Extension Southwest District director. “It is also a win-win for our aging agricultural industry with more young people having interest in going into this type of work.” 

For Amber Montano ’20 ’23, attending ranch camp changed her university destination.  

“The experience at ranch camp, not only what we learned, but the people I was surrounded with, completely changed my outlook on everything,” says Montano, who participated in 2017 after graduating high school. “I never considered NMSU and I’d never been to Las Cruces.” 

The week following ranch camp, the Albuquerque native decided to leave the comforts of home and study ag business at NMSU. 

Abby Spindle, a 2015 attendee, credits the relationships built at ranch camp with helping her professionally in her current position with the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association. 

“I don’t always use the information we learned, but I remember all the people I went with.” 

Mason Grau found his college major while at ranch camp after graduating from high school in 2014. 

“I ended up in ag business because I enjoyed the numbers part of it. The economic side and the marketing strategies were my favorite part of the camp that I really enjoyed,” says Grau, a Curry County Extension Ag agent who started working at ranch camp in 2023. 

“As a leader, I enjoy working with those kids. They all come with great attitudes and it’s the best bunch to work with if you ask me,” he says. 

“The commitment of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences toward New Mexico’s youth is very strong and targeted,” College of ACES Dean Rolando Flores Galarza says. “This program is of the utmost relevance to attract more young people to the agriculture industry, along all the links of the food chain. It is our goal to have more opportunities like this for young New Mexicans, in addition to the 4-H and FFA programs.”

Celebrating her 10-year anniversary working at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Idaho, Eck wants to bring a similar experience to the youth in the state.  

“It affected me so much that I want to try to expand and give that opportunity to other students,” Eck says. 





Brandon Blakney (above) talked to ranch camp participants in June 2023. The 2024 New Mexico Youth Ranch Management Camp will be held in June at the CS Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico.